6 Reasons Why Foreigners in China Get Deported

6 Reasons Why Foreigners in China Get Deported
Jul 14, 2020 By Alistair Baker-Brian , eChinacities.com

As a foreigner living in China in modern times, you should expect to be under a whole lot of scrutiny. And if you break the rules, you might find yourself being made an example of. Numerous media outlets have reported a recent increase in foreign nationals getting arrested and deported from China. Here I bring you six reasons why foreigners in China get deported with some recent examples.

foreigners in China get deported
Source: Bill Oxford

1. Breaking COVID Rules

The easiest way to get yourself deported in the current climate is by breaking the rules that have been implemented to stop the spread of COVID-19. Anti-foreigner sentiment has been running high in China since outsiders were blamed for bringing imported coronavirus cases into the country before China closed its borders to almost all foreigners at the end of March.

In April, the government announced that it would deport and ban foreigners for up to 10 years if they broke COVID-related rules. The announcement came after several reports of rule breaking foreigners, including an Australian woman who decided to jog outside her apartment while she was meant to be quarantining. After videos emerged online, she was subsequently sacked by her employer, saw her work visa cancelled and was ordered to leave the country.

2. Visa Fraud

According to a lawyer quoted by the Global Times, working illegally is one of the main reasons that foreigners in China get deported. In one article they tell the story of Canadian English teacher Laurel, whose employer promised her a Z-visa (required to legally work in China) on arrival in 2015. When she was about to start a class one morning while still on a tourist visa, police arrived at the school and told her she would have to fly back to Canada immediately or face time in prison. This is just one of dozens of similar stories about expats being caught out working on the wrong visa in China.

Another word of warning: even if you do get a  Z-visa, don’t think for a second that you can now work wherever you like. Your work visa is tied to a specific place of work i.e. a specific school or company. South African teacher Madri van den Heever was rounded up by police in April 2018 at her school in Beijing’s Chaoyang District. She had a Z-visa but was apparently not aware that the visa was for another campus. She had therefore technically been working illegally in China for eight months. She spent an absolutely horrendous sounding 16 days in jail before being deported along with her husband and two-year-old son.

Two things are worth pointing out here. Firstly, if you are in China with a Z-visa for a specific place of work and think you can get away with a part-time gig earning some extra cash someplace else, consider if it’s really worth the risk. Secondly, Madri’s case highlights the importance of researching your employer before you accept a job offer and carefully checking the details of your work visa. What happened was not her fault, but ultimately she was the one who paid the price.

As this blog has emphasized many times before, you need a Z-visa to legally work in China. There are some exceptions, such as working on a “talent visa” or working part-time as a student, but generally that’s the short of it. NEVER trust employers who claim you can work on any other kind of visa. They may want to cut corners for their own benefit, but at the end of the day, it will be you who gets in trouble.

3. Drug Use

A recent crackdown has brought the sale, possession and use of illicit substances by foreigners in China into the media spotlight. A particularly notorious case from July 2019 involved English teachers working for Education First (EF) in the city of Xuzhou in China’s eastern Jiangsu province. Nine employees of one of EF’s English training centers were detained by police and later dismissed by the company after testing positive for illicit substances. They spent 15 days in jail and were subsequently deported.

If you’re a foreigner living in China or even just visiting, be aware that authorities can carry out drug testing as and when they please. If you test positive for an illicit substance, you are deemed to have broken the law, regardless of where you took said substance.

Cannabis can be detected in hair samples for up to 90 days. Let’s say you smoke weed in a country where it’s legal and arrive in China within 90 days. You then, for whatever reason, find yourself subjected to a drugs test. If you test positive, you’ve officially broken the law, despite the fact that you never took drugs in China.

The advice here is simple. Avoid any possession, sale, purchase or use of illicit substances prior to your arrival and during your time in China. And if you want my advice, stay away from anyone you come across who is involved with drugs in China.

4. Racism

Racism, specifically anti-Chinese racism, can get you deported from China. In November 2019, Austrian visual effects artist Mark A Kolars caught attention for comments he made on LinkedIn. As well as referring to Chinese people as “dirty yellow guys”, he also bragged about what he claimed was the genetic superiority of Europeans over Chinese. Screenshots of his abhorrent rants went viral on social media site Sina Weibo, prompting an angry reaction from Chinese netizens. He was later fired, had his residence and work permits revoked, and was ordered to leave China.

Kolar reportedly had a green card and had been living in China for two decades, proving that no-one is safe if they disrespect their hosts. I probably don’t need to remind readers that insulting the people of the country in which you have chosen to live and work (or indeed making racist statements at all) is not going to cast you in a good light.

5. Violence

Violence and fighting, especially with locals, is another easy way to find yourself out on your ear as a foreigner in China. It’s not exactly difficult to imagine some common scenarios. You go out to a bar or nightclub with friends. You have one too many and before you know it, you’re scrapping with a fellow partygoer. Or maybe you’re on your way home from work after a stressful day. A fellow commuter pushes you out of the way when getting on the subway. You lose your temper and a fight breaks out.

In a recent real-life experience, a Moroccan man was deported from China after apparently attacking COVID-prevention workers in the northwestern city of Xi’an. The attack seems to have constituted little more than the drunken throwing of a mobile phone, but this, along with the sensitivity of the COVID situation (see number 1), seems to have been enough to warrant being expelled.

In any scenario involving fighting, it’s all too easy to find yourself filmed and exposed on the net in today’s smart phone addicted world. Bear this in mind whenever you think you might lose your temper, as once you’ve angered China’s netizens, there’s little hope.

6. Breaching Cybersecurity/National Security Laws

Discussing the intricacies of China’s cybersecurity and national security laws is far beyond my remit, but in short, they cover everything from insulting China on social media to espionage. There are several foreigners currently being held in China under cybersecurity and national security laws, including two Canadians — former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor — who have been held since December 2018.

As such laws are so wide reaching and versatile, they are particularly dangerous for foreigners in China as they can be adapted for almost any purpose. As in the case of Kovrig and Spavor — whose arrests are said by some to be in retaliation to Canada’s arrest of Huawei exec Meng Wanzhou — they may be rolled out for political leverage.

The best thing you can do to protect yourself from such horrors is to ensure both your offline and online lives in China are squeaky clean. You will most likely use WeChat for day-to-day communication when in China. You may also want to keep up to date with the latest news and views via Sina Weibo, QQ, Ping Duo Duo and the like. Just remember that all Chinese social media sites operate under Chinese law. This means any messages you send or information you post can be monitored and used against you. With this in mind, avoid mention of any “sensitive” topics on the Chinese internet. It’s also best to steer clear of organising revolutions offline.

Dont Throw Away Your Opportunities

As a foreigner in China, you’re not above the law and are in many ways under even more scrutiny than locals. Before you get in trouble over something silly, think about the opportunities you’ll lose out on if you get deported. Job opportunities, language-learning opportunities, the opportunity to travel and experience a different culture, not to mention the shame and embarrassment of having to return home as a deportee with a big black stamp in your passport.

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if anyone can show me what China's deportation stamp looks like on the passport, please get in touch with me

Oct 22, 2023 21:56 Report Abuse



To be honest, the first 5 are just common sense and the same everywhere. In terms of the final law mentioned, I don't know too much about it, but if it's just a case of my messages being monitored and Internet usage being checked, then that's fine. I never use a VPN or anything while in China and I have nothing to hide; so it doesn't bother me!

Oct 07, 2020 22:35 Report Abuse



So sad to misbehave generally even in one's own country but more riskier in a foreign country,

Jul 21, 2020 11:02 Report Abuse



the dude had a green card, so even when you surrender your citizenship and become a 'Chinese citizen' you're still just a foreigner that can be deported for not pleasing the communists.

Jul 16, 2020 12:41 Report Abuse



So bad oo

Jul 15, 2020 22:31 Report Abuse




Jul 15, 2020 22:30 Report Abuse



I feel strongly about #1.

Jul 15, 2020 20:06 Report Abuse



interesting article

Jul 15, 2020 11:20 Report Abuse



The China Law Blog now tells people to not teach English in China because of all the harrassment. Such a shame. I had the time of my life in China (2008-2015) and things have really gone downhill it seems. Maybe you can get some Chinese to teach you Engrish.

Jul 15, 2020 00:36 Report Abuse



Do you have a work visa? Do you work in China legally?If so then I dont think someone would tell you not to teach. If you dont have a work visa then what you are complaining about ?

Jul 16, 2020 11:45 Report Abuse



yes, best avoid big brother and the Stasi. Just consider any other country - and good luck !!

Jul 14, 2020 19:17 Report Abuse